“This data proved to us some very important things – firstly that the fires and hazards were all detectable using thermal imaging,
but most importantly that they were predictable.”
- Imagine an idea that could halve the number of housefires – we have pretty much invented something that can…
- We have called our invention “Pippa” (Like “Alexa” – Amazon’s IoT device).
My team and I are the inventors of several products in the Connected Home, AI and Internet of Things sectors, among them the Skyrad solar heating system, the LeakBotTM self-fit water leak detector, the HeatDoctor heating diagnostic system, (and several others which are still in stealth mode while we protect our IP).
I had been considering, based on my background in IoT and AI development, what other new products and inventions could really help make people’s lives safer and more convenient.
Housefires – The Facts Are Frightening
One of the big risks that households face is housefires. England has around 30,000 dwelling fires per year that the Fire Service have to attend to (there will be many more that the householder manages to put out, and don’t get recorded). This is 1 in every 800 households each year having a housefire. The number may seem low, but over an 80-year lifespan, that means around 1 in 10 of us will at some point experience the horror of a housefire.
Housefires are also the third most expensive risk that home insurances pay out for, after water leaks and weather damage. For the insurers we looked at it, typical claim value for a housefire is around £50,000.
Using some statistical models we estimated the value of protecting people from those fires. We also looked at what was causing those fires. Fire service data in the UK and elsewhere shows that across developed countries, a fairly consistent 50% of housefires are started on the cooker.
Cooking fires have become dominant partly because other risks have been reduced substantially. Fewer people smoke, and the safety of electrical wiring and appliances, and the combustibility of materials used in homes have improved over time. However the one risk that hasn’t been reduced, and that technology hasn’t addressed properly yet, is the risk from cooking fires.
So we started a research program – to see whether using our expertise in artificial intelligence and smart sensors would help us to develop a product that could protect people from these risks. We started out with a fairly expensive thermal imaging camera similar to the ones that the military use. This was never going to be a viable product as it was too expensive to put in every home, however we expected that the cost of the sensors would fall over time.
We created a test rig outdoors using a camping stove, and put on protective gear and intentionally created various cooking hazards – setting chip pan fires, boiling pans dry, setting fire to tea towels left near the stove, and letting food intentionally combust, all the while capturing data from a thermal imaging camera test rig. This data proved to us some very important things – firstly that the fires and hazards were all detectable using thermal imaging, but most importantly that they were predictable. We could tell that fires were going to start, several minutes before they caught fire.
Patents & Innovation – It’s very rare that an idea is completely new!
Based on these tests we developed some designs for algorithms, and we filed patents on the concept. The patents we are granted with no prior art found. This is very unusual in any invention – most new products are sufficiently similar to pre-existing ideas that patent examiners will find something. This indicated to us that we have definitely found a new and innovative invention. It also gives protection from our design being copied, and the patent has now been filed worldwide.
Product Development – Prototypes
An important next step was to prove that we could make the AI work in real cooking situations, so that we could minimise the chance of a false alarm during normal cooking and cause a nuisance to users. If the device become a nuisance, users might remove it or take the batteries out. To do this we needed to get a prototype into people’s kitchens that could gather data for us as quickly as possible.
We used a raspberry pi connected to the thermal imaging camera, and uploading data to our cloud algorithms. What we could then do was test our algorithms and optimise those based on the data from real people’s houses, and we could train them to detect the real hazards that we created and simulated, and not trigger when there is normal cooking usage, despite different stove types and cooking styles.
Product Design – Making Pippa Stylish & Small
In the meantime, we started designing what the final hardware and case would look like. We chose a design that has a very similar shape and size to a light switch. This makes it stylish and inconspicuous in a kitchen and helps it to blend in. We also designed how the device would be fitted, as it is very important that a user can easily and safely fit one in their own kitchen without needing tools or doing any damage to their kitchen.
We made a few important design decisions – the first was to make Pippa speak before it triggered an alarm. Most alerts from a Pippa are benign if you respond quickly – you have let your pan get too hot and your food is about to burn, or you’ve stopped cooking and not turned the stove off. Pippa only emits a high-volume alarm if you don’t respond to the gentle spoken reminders in a reasonable time.
We also decided to connect Pippa via a cellular phone network, rather than Wi-Fi. This incurs a cost as we need to pay for a SIM subscription whereas Wi-Fi would be free. However there are two risks with Wi-Fi that we have found with some of our previous IoT products. The first is that many people found the set up of a Wi-Fi device very fiddly, and they tended to struggle to get things like the paring and password setup correctly. By adding a cellular connection, the Pippa can be ready to go straight out of the box. This problem is particularly acute amongst older people and those who are less tech-savvy. You can buy a Pippa for your elderly parent or grandparent, or put one in your care home or rental property and it will just connect automatically when they install it. It doesn’t need them to have Wi-Fi or a smartphone to work.
Another problem we found was that IoT devices often lose their Wi-Fi connection over time, as routers update DHCP tables, people switch ISP, move routers or change passwords etc. We’ve all had devices that mysteriously lose their Wi-Fi connection and need resetting or rebooting before you can use them again. Given a Pippa might sit on your wall for several years before you need it to warn you of a fire, we really don’t want it to have lost its connection in the interim.
Reliability & Proving Pippa Works!
We also had to test that the device was sufficiently reliable, and that it could last up to 12 months using just 2 AA batteries. We have now had Pippas in peoples kitchens for 3 years, testing and refining the algorithms, the hardware and the software. We have also set fire to many products that a Pippa might experience – frying pans, chip pans, cooking oil spills, baked beans, pasta, tea towels, paper, clothing etc. all to train the AI to recognise their different pre-fire and fire signatures. The recognition rate is extremely high – we will never be able to guarantee to predict or detect every fire, but we estimate that comfortably over 90% are detected by the Pippa algorithm. In the case of unattended stove fires such as oil fires or pans boiling dry and combusting, we can predict them several minutes before they break out. For fires that start instantaneously (for example some leaves a tea towel very close to a hot stove and doesn’t realise) we can detect it in around 30 seconds. Most smoke detectors take several minutes to respond because they need either a large amount of smoke, or a very high rise in the temperature in the kitchen which won’t typically happen until the fire has already spread and is out of control.
We also built and tested the cloud interface that could enable users to register the device and to set up remote alarms so that they can be automatically phoned or texted if Pippa detects a hazard and they are out of hearing and don’t notice the alarm – for example if they had left the stove on and left the house. We’ve built the system using the Amazon cloud, and integrated all of Amazon’s latest security technology to ensure the security of our users data.
The Amazing AI Cooking Assistant Idea & Pippa App
As well as being a scientist and stats geek, I am also a keen cook. I’d been thinking for several years about the advantages of having some sort of sensor on a stove top. Knowing the temperature of your pan would make it safer and easier to cook, and in particular it would make it easier for people who are less experienced cooks to get meals cooked at the right temperature. Gauging whether it is the right time to add your food to a frying pan, or tracking how long each dish has been simmering is very hard. Experienced cooks use subtle cues like the sound of the sizzle, or the smell coming from the pan, to judge when their food is ready. Getting it wrong in one direction means burning your food and filling your kitchen with smoke. Get it wrong the other way and you serve undercooked food, risking food poisoning, or you add food to oil before it is hot, causing it to soak the oil up before it seals resulting in unpleasant food with a higher fat content. An AI system with a sensor would help solve this, and it would also make cooking repeatable, so if I cook something once I can then cook it again. It would also make people less likely to have a fire on their stove.
So we also created the smart assistant app. The app connects your smartphone or tablet to your Pippa vie Bluetooth, to turn the Pippa into an intelligent cooking Assistant.
Some foods require cooking at quite specific temperatures in order to get the desired result – examples of these are frying a steak, cooking pancakes, poaching eggs, and for the more adventurous sous vide cooking where food is cooked a low temperature in a sealed bag in order to maintain the juiciness of the food.
In recipe mode the Pippa app is designed to guide you to the right pan temperature, to time your cooking and tell you when to add or turn your food, and when it is cooked. This way even very inexperienced cooks can get perfect results. In stove mode, it provides an at a glance measure of the temperature of all your pans so you can judge if the food might burn or the heat needs to be turned up, and it automatically times how long each different pan has been cooking for. If you leave the app running in the background it will even work in your pocket, so if you want to check how long your pasta has been boiling, you can simply open your app to tell you.
Ready to Manufacture!
We have now finalised the design work, and have partnered with a contract electronics manufacturing company here in the UK to start production. I have entirely self-funded the project and now that the Pippa design is ready to go we need additional investment through backers to pay for the initial production run. These are costs such as the moulds for the casing and the test equipment – that will automatically test each Pippa as it comes off the line to ensure that it functions correctly before it is shipped. We also need to pay upfront for volumes of components in order to secure them in during the current global electronics supply squeeze, and to get a reasonable price.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about the development of Pippa. To find out more and to be one of the first to own a Pippa please back us on Kickstarter!
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Sam is the inventor of LeakBot (https://leakbot.io), a 100,000 unit plus selling Internet of Things leak detection system that customers can fit themselves to detect leaks in their plumbing system. He licensed it to, and brought it to market with the major home emergency cover provider HomeServe Plc.
LeakBot has gone on to win several awards, including the Insurance Times IoT Breakthrough award.
Developing LeakBot has given him and the Pippa team (Ben, Lewis, William, Jamil and Mark) the experience needed to bring a new IoT invention to market.
add to your personal safety and the security of your property
THOUGHTS…/ STUFF MAT HAD NOTED DOWN HERE ALREADY….
CAN I ADD IN ENTIRELY SELF-FUNDED SO FAR. LIST SKILLS – ENGINEERS, PROGRAMMERS ETC. WORKED ON IT.
Our analysis of the causes of household fires, actions by householders, responses to alarms etc. means that we can quite confidently conclude that using a Pippa would reduce fire risk by more than an incredible 40! In fact it would stop most kitchen fries from happening in the first place. This would make Pippa one of the most significant / cost-effective fire-fighting tools of the last century / since the extinguisher was invented…
we could, quite literally, prevent thousands of catastrophic household fires every year
Add in in Ready to manufacture… Our existing Pippas take 12 hours each to plastic 3D print. We’d like to move from this stage to an economically viable injection moulding assembly line – type of – manufacture. This will help us to be able to make Pippas more widely available.Mission statement – We hope to help to prevent avoidable fires!”
I NEED IMAGES! OF OTHER INVENTIONS TOO.
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Costs of a fire.
Pippa costs a tiny fraction of the total costs involved if you have an actual fire.
Add the costs involved in a Fire & Rescue Service call out: engine, men, equipment. The real total costs to the economy is many thousands.
Like so many of the best ideas it was really quite simple in principle. Could you place a thermal imaging camera above a stove to detect temperatures? And then by applying A.I.: could you differentiate all the many different pans and rings and cooking elements involved in cooking? And could you recognise signs of danger and create an effective warning alarm system? (given that 96% of people respond to an alarm). And could you make it stylish, discrete and small enough that it would be ideal for every kitchen? And the answer to all of this is – we have.
COMPETITION AND ALTERNATIVE PRODUCTS
*FIRE STATISTICS & CBA
Our fire prevention statistics and insurance costs are based on an in-depth analysis of the Fire statistics incident level datasets. The Home Office collects detailed information on incidents attended by Fire and Rescue Services. e.g. 6% of cooking fires are discovered immediately and are either chip pan or article too close to heat (they would likely happen anyway regardless of presence of a Pippa). The remaining 94% of stove fires could potentially be prevented by a Pippa. We can also provide a far more in-depth cost benefit analysis of the economic benefits of Pippa upon request. e.g. Vs a more expensive gas shut off device and the additional costs incurred with CORGI system resets etc.
We are proud to be releasing Pippa – an amazing little device that is designed to tackle the most common cause of deadly household fires. And does!
Which all brings us to the present day. We have a fully designed, tested and prototyped product ready to go.
We just need people who are willing to believe in our product, believe that pippa will be of benefit for their safety, and are willing to back us so that we can move to manufacturing quantities.
Simple ideas are often the best 🙂
with hindsight it seems like pippa is an obvious idea.
“Can you use technology to prevent most of those fires?” And the answer is – Yes, we have!
And that led to the question: “What technology exists that could be applied to help prevent all of these fires?” And an idea was born…